Tuesday, March 20, 2012

CUSCO -- the Incan city of the puma

Cusco, the city of the Incas, has a fabulous history, much of it erased by the Spanish conquistadors, but enough of the history is still there and much of it has been reproduced to give us a sense of the grandeur of this place, which is still beautiful, but in a different way from its beauty in the past. 

You may remember from a previous post that Manco Capac and his wife Mama Ocllo rose from Lake Titicaca and were given life and leadership abilities from Wiracocha, the creator god of the Incas.  Manco Capac was also given a golden scepter to carry throughout the land to find a fertile place for the new kingdom.  Once he was able to plunge it into the earth, that place was to be the location where they should stop and create their new world. 

That scepter plunged into the earth around Cusco in the Sacred Valley (Qosqo -- meaning “the naval of the world”).  Manco Capac and his scepter are represented for us as a statue and fountain in the central Plaza de Armas of Cusco, the city he founded.

One of the later and often called the greatest Incas, Pachacutec, made Cusco into a huge, glittering capital.  His importance to this city and to the culture of the Incas, is represented by another statue and a museum closer to the entrance of Cusco. 
The museum is actually in the base of the monument -- five different floors plus an open-air viewing floor at the top.  You enter in the door visible here.

Cusco was originally designed to have its boundaries conform to the shape of a puma, the animal representing the sacred here-and-now living for the Incas.  In the original design, the important body parts of the puma were represented by important structures:

---  Sacsayhuaman = the head of the puma, representing the leadership, command and government functions
---  Haukaypata, the main plaza = the heart of the puma, representing the social life of the city, the exact center of the Inca empire called Tawantinsuyo
---  Qorikancha = the genitals of the puma, representing the fertile source of the energy (the temple of the sun)
---  The confluence of the two rivers (Saphy and Tullumayu) = the puma’s tail.  The Tullumayu also forms the top of the puma’s body
---  Avenida El Sol = the bottom of the body.

The rest of the pictures on the blog will show you some of the Cusco locations from the puma:  Sacsayhuaman, the main plaza, Qorikancha, and Avenida El Sol.   Mainly, we have used the Quechua names for these locations. 


Sacsayhuaman (meaning “house of the sun”), which some say was the administrative core of the “puma,” seems to be, instead, a fortress having three layers of walls, all on different levels.  It has, in fact, seen major battles, including the Spanish attack in their attempt to stop the ten-month Incan siege of the city.  Juan Pizarro (Francisco's younger brother) was killed in the attack on Sacsayhuaman.  Some say the fortress was capable of accommodating 5000 warriors.

Note that there are 3 layers of walls in this ONE section of Sacsayhuaman
What one wonders about most when visiting is how the heck these massive walls were built.  The Incas apparently told the Spanish that “the giants” built the walls containing rocks some of which are the size of trucks standing on end.  Many of the rocks are over 50 tons, and the biggest one is over 120 tons.  How the heck???????
Harold is stunned at the size of the rocks; he regrets complaining about hauling "heavy" hay bales.  

Gil, one of our travel compadres and a buddy from Cuenca, takes his turn holding up a section of the wall.  

Gently now, tip and slide the triangular part of the top rock into the triangular spot in the base rocks.  How the heck?
Julie and Harold, exhausted after thinking about the process of building these walls, rest in an iconic Incan trapezoidal doorway. 
The happy part is that since many of these rocks were so huge, the Spanish were not able to move them to use them in their own constructions, similar to their normal patterns of destroying the sites they found and using the rocks to build their own constructions (grrrrr). 

Within the complex there stood 3 towers according to Garcilaso de la Vega. These towers were built at equal distance from each other, forming a triangle. The main tower, called Muyuc Marca or Muyucmarca, was cylindrically-shaped and was located in the center.  
A larger view of the base of the tower of Muyucmarca.  

If the base is this wide, how high were the walls?  Speculations vary from 10 to 90 feet.
Here's one of the multiple stunning views from the top of Sacsayhuaman, looking down upon the main plaza of Cusco -- the heart of the Puma.
Haukaypata, the main plaza

Here's a view of the Plaza looking at the cathedral (left) and ?? (right).  

Here's the other side of the plaza.  We are actually sitting at a balcony window of a cool little restaurant enjoying our last meal in Cusco. 
Here's a view of another side of the plaza at night.  The balconies in Cusco are beautiful -- day or night.
And while the Plaza is beautiful as it is, one can only wonder at what it might have looked like when it was originally built by the Incas, surrounded by palaces of the Incas (present and past).  It's so disheartening to think of what has been lost. . . .  It's also disheartening to recall the horrific violence perpetrated on the Incans by the Spanish, many of which took place right on this plaza, including the beheading of Tupac Amaru II after a failed "quartering", a populist leader of Incan descent, in 1781.  


While the Spanish conquistadors must have been in awe about the grandiosity of the Incan buildings in Cusco, you can imagine their awe when they entered the temple of the sun – Qorikancha ( meaning “courtyard of gold in Quechua) with its walls covered in gold.  Additionally, the inside was filled with life-sized gold figures, solid gold altars, and a huge golden sun disc which reflected the sun and created a golden light in the temple.  For summer solstice, the sun shone into a niche where only the Inca was permitted to sit.  Outside on the grounds, golden llamas “grazed,” as did several other gold and silver animals and plants.

One can only imagine. . . .

But instead of appreciating the beauty of the grand buildings, these individuals took all the beauty and melted it down to make themselves rich.  We asked our Incan tour guide if she felt anger at the destruction of her culture, and she thoughtfully replied that she had gotten over the anger and now only felt “sadness” about what had happened to her people.  She did add, however, that many of the tour guides did feel angry.  Personally, I (Julie) feel nothing but disgust at these greedy illiterate people who destroyed a civilization, and I find myself further appalled that we still teach about the “civilized” Europeans who “civilized” the “uncivilized” people of the “new” world.  What a joke. 

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox and back onto the topic. 

True to form, the Spaniards destroyed much of the Incan temple (after pilfering its metals) and built Santo Domingo atop the remains.  After several earthquakes, however, some of the Spanish-built walls tumbled, but the Incan walls underneath remained intact.  It is from these base walls that we can get a sense of the temple as it was in the past.

Here are a few photos to give you a sense of what it is (and perhaps what it was). 

The Incan trapezoidal doorway -- built to last for centuries.  

A series of three windows looking through 3 of the interior rooms.  They certainly knew their geometry!

This segment gives you a sense of the perfection of the blocks.  Remember -- no mortar was used; everything fit together perfectly.  And if it didn't, it was fixed perfectly -- as with this set-in piece. 

So there was no mortar, but was it only the massiveness of the stones that made the blocks hold together?  NO -- the blocks had a series of "staples" linking them together (particularly on the corners and other less stable places).  These engraved holes were filled with melted copper and/or brass so that when the blocks were in place, the copper/brass would solidify and hold the structure perfectly in shape.  
This is a representation of what the "temple of the sun" might have looked like from the inside.  The walls were capped with gold, and inside the walls were covered with gold.  Also, there were gold and silver llamas, etc. in front of the Inca who is sitting in the round portion in the back. 
This water channel and the pond are from Incan times!  They were not only masters at stone work; they were also masters at water channels and irrigation. 
The black rounded portion is what is left of the wall of the temple of the sun (in previous picture, the Inca would have sat right on the other side of that wall).  You can also see the Santo Domingo convent built atop the Incan temple (grrrr).  Imagine this beautiful garden filled with gold and silver plants and animals!! 

Avenida El Sol 
This is the way the Avenida El Sol looks from the top of Pacacutec Monument.

Much of the Incan culture is lost to us, but much of it remains also, and if one has an active imagination -- perhaps that is enough.  Cusco, of course, is much more than the old Incan city of the puma.  It has blended the Incan ways with the Spanish ways, and the mix is intriguing.  We would encourage you to visit it; you will not be disappointed.  


  1. Thanks for all the WONDERFUL pictures! I'm going for a visit soon and hope to capture some memories of the amazing architecture that proved the mastery of math, geometry and astrology that this civilization had. No one word can express the feeling of sadness/anger/disgust/sympathy that I feel about the "civilized' people that came over and destroyed something they could not understand, and most likely feared.
    I appreciate the courage to express yourself and find it refreshing.

  2. Hi, May I use your image of the outline of the puma? I will give you credit with a link to your blog. www.CuscoRetreatCenter.com.